I’m Italian, this should be in my blood, I thought, as I unwrapped the thermometer I was about to plunge into the milk heating up on the stove. In one hand I had my 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, ready to pour. My other hand was being treated to a manicure by my mouth as I nervously chewed away at my nails, waiting for the milk to hit 190°F.
I always imagined I’d pick up the skill of cheese-making just as fast as I did with other activities in my life, such as being a long-distance runner, completing book club selections before meetings, or maintaining a regular blogging schedule. And when I say pick up these hobbies, I obviously mean I run about a mile before stopping to coo over a cute little puppy, show up to book club enthusiastically ready to drink wine, and blog not very often at all. Based on the fact that running, reading and blogging should be fairly simple activities for a normal human being, I was preparing myself for the worst. I channeled my inner nonna, closed my eyes and poured the lemon juice.
And just like how I can sometimes surprise myself by banging out a 6-miler, finishing a book or waxing poetic about my friends in a weekend recap post, I surprised myself once again and made cheese. Ricotta cheese no less, like the good Italian I am.
So when you need a little crostini topper, or a lasagna filler, dig deep into your roots (everyone has got to a have a little Italian in them, no?), and
treat yo’ self make this.
homemade ricotta, via smitten kitchen:
Makes about 1 generous cup of ricotta
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer and heat the milk to 190°F, stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. The longest you let it strain (and cool), the thicker the cheese will get. Discard the whey (that weird, milky looking water). Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. Cheese should last up to 5 days (or longer: use your newly-conquered inner-nonna to be the judge).
Crostini toppers from left to right. first row: sliced strawberries with balsamic vinegar, walnuts with honey, tomatoes basil and olive oil. second row: cherries with honey, apples, shaved raw zucchini with basil and olive oil. third row: shaved raw zucchini with basil and olive oil, sliced strawberries with balsamic vinegar, cherries with honey.
Regarding that pretty looking lasagna up there: I made it on Easter Sunday (ages and ages ago) for a family dinner – with friends. I was missing my family that morning, and for some reason, I was feeling lasagna-ey (made up words are a side effect of homesickness). I’m not sure why, but something about making cheese and sauce from scratch really helped fill that pit in my stomach I felt when I thought about my family enjoying Easter dinner together without me on the East coast. I would highly recommend this recipe from The New York Times. I had planned to share that recipe with you separately but I had also planned on regularly blogging, but some things don’t always turn out as planned, you know? This cheese however, truly does.
P.S. In other exciting news, I did a Google Hangout with Marcus Samuelsson! I talked about my blog, making ricotta cheese, and even gave myself a back-pat on air. I totally don’t get awkward when I’m nervous and talking to celebrity chefs or anything like that.